Do Police Have the Right to Search Your Cell Phone?

Supreme Court

IMG: via Shutterstock

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will be deciding if police officers need warrants to search through the cellphones of people they arrest. The court will be hearing two cases from California and Massachusetts before they make their decision. Currently, police can go through a person’s wallet at the time of arrest. The question is if a cell phone should be treated like a wallet or like a home, which requires a warrant to search. 

“It’s an opportunity for the court to decide and examine once again,” said Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights organization. “What does the Fourth Amendment mean in the 21st century?

Cell phones have changed from being used only to make calls, to gadgets that now contain personal information about the owner.

“It used to be that when you walked around, your pockets contained only a small amount of information,” Adam Gershowitz, a professor at William and Mary Law School specializing in privacy law in the digital age, told Mashable. “No one ever envisioned a world in which you would have so much information on your cellphone.”

Stanford Law School professor Jeffrey Fisher, who represents one of the defendants, said in court papers that it was important for the high court to decide the issue.

“In light of the frequency with which people are arrested with cell phones and the judiciary’s confusion over whether the police may search the digital contents of those phones, this court’s intervention is critical,” Fisher said.

The court will hear oral arguments in April and issue rulings by the end of June. The cases are Riley v. California, 13-132 and U.S. v. Wurie, 13-212.

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